Tuesday, October 25, 2005

Right yet Guilty

ROsa Parks has died. AS most know, even those like myself who were born long after the fact and in a different country, her refusal to give up her seat and subsequent arrest were a spark that helped light the flame of the civil rights movement in the American SOuth.

And yet, it can be asked "what did she do wrong?". On the one hand, absolutely nothing. On the other, she was in clear violation of a legally binding statute (an immoral one yes but still legally binding). THis brings to mind a thought process I go through every year around Good Friday.

For centuries Christians have insisted the Jesus of Nazareth was unjustly executed because he did nothing wrong. Many have theologized this into the perfect, unblemished sacrifice. BUt he too broke the law of his day. If he said even half of what he is reported to have said about the political and social structures of his world he was guilty of treason in that world. But still he did nothing wrong.

In the history of Canada we have a man named Louis Riel. Distressed at the treatment of his Metis people he led two armed insurrections. He was arrested, convicted of treason, and hanged. Now there is a movement to have his conviction set aside because he was doing what he had to in order to protect his people.

What all these things have in common is that they make a similar mistake. People seem to think that if you do nothing wrong then any conviction is invalid. BUt all three of these individuals broke the law in their place and time. All three were legally convicted (however legal conviction was measured in each place and time). And all three can be argued to have done nothing worthy of the punishment the recieved. THe thing is that right and wrong are not always bound by the legal system. Right and wrong, in the long term, are decided by history. As people like Gandhi and Martin Luther King knew, as did an itinerant Nazarene some 2000 years ago, sometimes to do what is right you have to chance conviction.

As we remember Rosa PArks and all like her who chose to be both guilty and right, let us hope that we have that courage. The courage to say that there is right and there is legal, and sometimes they aren't the same.


  1. Very, very interesting post!

    One of the statements of faith in the Presbyterian Church (USA) says that Jesus was "unjustly condemned for blasphemy and sedition." You've given me much food for thought as it pertains to that statement. I'd never thought about it this way--but you're absolutely right. And really, what kind of prophet would he have been if he hadn't been 'guilty' of something in the eyes of the state?

  2. I think the whole "unjustly sentenced" line is tied to the Satisfaction/Substitutionary atonement theory which is prominent in the Western Church (perhaps more so in Protestantism). But then I don't find that to be a helpful atonement theory for all of us either. I think atonement comes in many ways through the death and resurrection. So it may be easier for me to challenge the guilt/innocence line I was taught as a child.

  3. Amen!

    I think, too, that Ms. Parks, like Jesus, knew the ultimate plan . . . they were attuned with the goal and willing to (justly) defy the law.

    Thanks for letting me stop by!